Morning Coffee Reflections – Writing 101

Carol A. Hand

As I sat on my front porch drinking my morning coffee, alone, I was thinking about today’s Writing 101 assignment.

“ … today, write an update post in the form of a virtual coffee date.”

I watched the birds playing in the scruffy fall gardens, hanging from the spent cone flowers and eating fallen crabapples scattered on the lawn and sidewalk. I wondered what I could possibly write. A curious little grey squirrel walked up the steps and stared at me, sitting on its back legs only a few feet away with its tiny front feet reaching toward me. I spoke to it in a gentle voice, “Good morning, little one.” It cocked its head in reply, turned, and scampered down the stairs again.

I realized I’m far more comfortable being here, alone, with trees and plants and birds and squirrels, then I would be having coffee or tea with a group of people. I thought about the photo my daughter took of me not so long ago. It’s the one I still use as my avatar.


Photo: On the Southwestern Shore Of Lake Superior, Duluth – 2010 (photographer, Jnana Hand)

I wonder if she’s captured the truth about who I really am deep inside. Someone who is more at home alone, contemplating deeper questions of life, breathing in the beauty around me. Storing it for later when I need to return to the social world.

I’m often not a fun coffee date. My social encounters almost always have a purpose. I won’t refuse an invitation to share tea or coffee. I may sometimes even be the one to propose it.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I love to listen to other people’s stories and learn about who they are. Yet today, I realized when I leave my sanctuary to interact with others, I put on my professional, purposeful persona. I wear my symbolic protective necklace to help me stay centered, tucked out of sight close to my heart. If I have the luxury of being part of the woodwork, I listen, watch, and feel what’s going on, hoping I won’t have to speak much. Hoping when I do feel the urgency that glows in my heart telling me that I need to speak, my words will be gentle and true. Or hoping that they will at least be true and effective when my task requires confronting injustice.

I remember there were times when I was younger when this wasn’t so – times when I played joyfully with friends as a child, or stayed up all night talking and laughing with college friends. As I think about this now, it seems this was before I realized that being on the margins does make me different, before I understood the responsibility that position conveys. Maybe it was my first performance – reciting a poem to my third grade classmates and teacher that showed me how precarious it was to reveal who you really are.


Third grade. Our assignment was to find a poem we could memorize and recite to the class. I grew up in a working class home with few books: my mother’s text about practical nursing and her high school English text, Adventures in American Literature, and my father’s set of Popular Mechanics, the poor man’s version of an encyclopedia. Given the limited choices, I read through my mother’s English literature text and selected the poem that had the most meaning to me, “The Fool’s Prayer.”

The Fool’s Prayer
Edward Rowland Sill (1841-1887)

The royal feast was done; the King
Sought some new sport to banish care,
And to his jester cried: “Sir Fool,
Kneel now, and make for us a prayer!”

The jester doffed his cap and bells,
And stood the mocking court before;
They could not see the bitter smile
Behind the painted grin he wore.

He bowed his head, and bent his knee
Upon the Monarch’s silken stool;
His pleading voice arose: “O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!

“No pity, Lord, could change the heart
From red with wrong to white as wool;
The rod must heal the sin: but Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!

“‘Tis not by guilt the onward sweep
Of truth and right, O Lord, we stay;
‘Tis by our follies that so long
We hold the earth from heaven away.

“These clumsy feet, still in the mire,
Go crushing blossoms without end;
The hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
Among the heart-strings of a friend.

“The ill-timed truth we might have kept –
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say –
Who knows how grandly it had rung?

“Our faults no tenderness should ask,
The chastening stripes must cleanse them all;
But for our blunders – oh in shame
Before the eyes of heaven we fall.

“Earth bears no balsam for mistakes;
Men crown the knave, and scourge the tool
That did his will; but ‘Thou, O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!”

The room was hushed: In silence rose
The King, and sought his gardens cool,
And walked apart, and murmured low,
“Be merciful to me, a fool!”

(H.S. Schweikert, R. B. Inglis, & J. Gehlmann, Eds., 1936, pp. 670-671 )

Presentation day was one of nervous anticipation for me. I was excited to share what I thought was an important message with my classmates. But my anxiety grew as I sat through the recitation of nursery rhymes and “Twinkle-twinkle little star.” “Oops,” I thought, “Maybe I made a mistake, but it’s too late now.” When my turn came, I walked to the front of the class and began. I don’t remember how my peers reacted as I recited the poem, probably with exaggerated drama, nor could I see my teacher’s expression. She was seated at her desk behind me. All I remember is from that day forward, my teacher treated me as if I were a leper. The first time I talked to a classmate seated next to me after my performance, the teacher singled me out in front of the class. “You may not need to listen to what I’m talking about, but the rest of the class does. From now on when we are discussing reading, your job is to stand by the side blackboard and draw.”

Perhaps it was meant as a punishment, but it didn’t seem to be a marker of shame to my peers so I was okay with it. And I really didn’t mind being freed from the prison of a desk as the teacher droned on and on, talking at us. I was free to daydream and create. I was free to ponder the message of the jester. Perhaps my role in life was to let kings and teachers know that they were as human as those over whom they exercised sovereignty. Yet unlike the jester, I couldn’t wear a painted grin. I was born with a face that couldn’t mask feelings, and I didn’t have the playfulness and self-assurance necessary to be a clown. So instead, I became quiet. I learned not to appear too smart – to avoid drawing any attention to myself. But it was too late. I had already learned that those of us who are not kings cannot remain silent forever. If we don’t find effective ways to rein-in kings, things will never change.


Photo: Jester Logo by Lesley-Lycanthropy


Sometimes, like today, I’m really not a fun coffee date. I can’t always forget that there’s a reason why I’m here although I’m not at all sure what it is. I do enjoy the peace of a solitary morning drinking my coffee. But afterwards, it’s time to be part of a social world that sometimes brings beauty, kindness and laughter, as it often does in this virtual blogging community. But sometimes the injustice and cruelty of the world around us forces me to speak with passion and a sense of urgency. I prefer to highlight the beauty and strengths of others and paint hopeful possibilities. Yet other times, like today, I’m reminded that I too often feel the need to play the jester.

Work Cited:

H.S. Schweikert, R. B. Inglis, & J. Gehlmann (1936)(Eds.). Adventures in American Literature. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace, and Company.


Dear Wall Street Investors – Writing 101

Carol A. Hand

I wonder if you realize the power you have to begin transforming the world for the better. Today, you can review your portfolio and ask if your investments follow the ethics and principles of permaculture.


Image: 3 Ethics of Permaculture (Lonnie Gamble)

(The link will take you to Gamble’s slideshow: the image is slide #5)

Earth Care.

Do the corporations supported by your investments enhance the health of the environment or practice policies that lead to pollution and escalating climate change through destructive environmental practices?

People Care.

Do the corporations you finance with your hard-earned dollars pay the people who work for them living, reasonable salaries? Provide reasonable job security and decent retirement pensions? Are employees treated well?

Do the companies produce quality products that enhance people’s lives by providing necessary products at a reasonable price? Are products built to last, or seen as disposable to increase profits by selling replacements frequently? Do the companies you finance introduce poisons that negatively impact people’s health and cover-up these hazards by misleading the public with faulty studies? Do they supply outdated products (fossil fuels), known carcinogens (pesticides, herbicides), or new risky chemicals without proper testing and trustworthy research studies (pharmaceuticals, genetically altered materials)?

Do they pay their fair share of taxes? Or have they sought tax-havens by establishing their corporate headquarters off-shore? Have they shown a commitment to employees and communities by maintaining production here or have they shipped jobs overseas to lower their overhead and increase corporate profits?

Fair Share.

Do the salary structures reflect a commitment to equity, providing all employees with a decent living wage, or are they skewed to disproportionately reward CEOs and stockholders?

You have the power to make a difference.

It’s possible to let your investments reflect your values. If you discover that your money is being used to finance harmful products and practices, or add to growing social inequality, you can change how and where you invest your money. It’s the easiest way to approach social change in a virulently capitalist society.


Please be patient with me. I’ve been unable to visit many of your blogs recently, and I still have so many comments to answer today. It’s harvest time, too, and time to do all of the outside jobs that need to be completed before winter arrives. A great time to enroll in Writing 101? Hmm…

I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by daily writing assignments. This isn’t the best post I’ve written, but I still think it has merit as a foundation for dialogue. I look forward to comments from those who have far more knowledge about economic matters and permaculture…

The Symbolic Importance of Names – Writing 101

Carol A. Hand

Recently, I read a featured post on one of the newer blogs I follow, K. A. Libby: A Novel Enterprise, and made a surprising discovery. The main character in a novel she had just published, Beware the Sleeping Dog, bears the same name as the one I had just chosen for the main character in a novel I’ve just begun, Mavis. After this discovery, I didn’t feel comfortable using the same name although my choice was purely coincidental. Initially I thought all I needed was K.A.’s approval. I included a question about this dilemma in my response to her comments on one of my posts.

“Thank you so much for such lovely and poetic comments, K.A.! I just realized when I was reading your blog this morning that I’ve just picked the same name (Mavis) for the central character in a book I’ve just begun. It seemed the perfect name because I’ve only ever met one person by that name in my lifetime, a former student. I wonder if that’s ok with you. An unassuming researcher, the Mavis I envision is a different kind of hero who helps people discover their power to transform their lives as individuals and members of communities by listening and recording their stories. The final decision of whether to use what they learn about themselves is up to them… It’s not to [sic] late for me to change her name – I’ve only just begun.”

I still felt uneasy even after posting this comment. The discovery of the same name in another novel made me think about the importance of taking more time to choose a name that has a deeper meaning for me. My initial choice, Mavis, was just because it wasn’t a common name. Out of the thousands of people and students I had known and worked with during my life and career, I had only encountered one person with that name. There would be little chance that the former student who bore that name would think that the story was about her.

I had thought about using my grandmother’s name, Agnes, but I wasn’t sure I could bear it. There were too many unpleasant memories associated with her that would be reawakened. I wondered if I would have to confront them each time I had to type her name.

Agnes and sisters

Photo: My Grandmother, Agnes (on the right), with Her Sisters, Sarah and Margaret

“I did leave all of my dear friends behind as I have been doing since I made my first pivotal move at the age of 12. While my parents and brother settled into their new home, I spent the summer of transition with my grandmother on the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe reservation in Wisconsin. My summer experiences and the shock of entering my new home just as school began influenced my lifetime far more profoundly than I realized at the time. I learned that for some people, like my grandmother, growing up in adversity doesn’t necessarily make one kinder or wiser. Sometimes, people are too wounded to care about themselves or others.”

Still, the strong ethic I have to honor the sanctity of other people’s work forced me to consider other possibilities. Maybe I could call my character Minerva. Like Mavis, I had only encountered one person who had that name. I still thought about my friend from long ago but I hadn’t heard from her in decades. Before I chose another name, I decided to do some research to find out the symbolism that name carried. I’m glad I checked.

I learned that Minerva, a Roman goddess, symbolizes wisdom, arts, trade, and strategy. “She is often depicted with her sacred creature, an owl … which symbolizes that she is connected to wisdom.” (Wikipedia)

An owl. That would be a fitting name for a researcher and scholar, but not one of Ojibwe ancestry.

“In most Native American tribes, owls are a symbol of death. Hearing owls hooting is considered an unlucky omen, and they are the subject of numerous ‘bogeyman’ stories told to warn children to stay inside at night or not cry too much, otherwise the owl may carry them away. In some tribes, owls are associated with ghosts, and the bony circles around an owl’s eyes are said to be made up of the fingernails of ghosts. Sometimes owls are said to carry messages from beyond the grave or deliver supernatural warnings to people who have broken tribal taboos.” (Native Languages)

“In Anishinabek and many other indigenous teachings, the Owl is a creature of bad omen and often considered evil.” (Rua Lupa, Pagan Newswire Collective)

I don’t feel comfortable choosing a name that symbolizes “bad omens” and death for a character I envision personifying hope and resistance against colonial and structural oppression. True, speaking truth to power often results in serious consequences, so perhaps the name would be fitting for a worthy ally or adversary.

Finally, I reconsidered using my grandmother’s name, Agnes, and explored the associated symbolism. The woman’s name Agnes “derives from the Greek name Ἁγνὴ hagnē, meaning “pure” or “holy”.” (Wikipedia)

Would using my grandmother’s name help me heal the deep wounds from the past that we both carried? I wonder who my grandmother could have become if her life had been unaffected by childhood sexual exploitation and the shame she internalized because of her ancestry, due in part to the years she spent in an Indian boarding school as a child. Would she have become someone like the character in my to-be-written novel who, despite deep insecurities, cares deeply enough about others to listen to their stories and discover their strengths and, in the process, discovers some of her own strengths as well? I will change the name of my main character to Agnes and continue working on my book with this thought in my heart.

Wherever you are, Grandmother, may my words honor you
and help you heal from the suffering you endured while you walked the earth.
My you discover and unlock the promise of your sacred name.

I would like to thank K.A. Libby for inspiring this post today. Someday, I plan to read her novel, Beware the Sleeping Dog, but it will have to wait until mine is finished. I hope she understands the reason for my delay. In the meantime, I encourage others to visit her blog and read the enticing excerpt she’s posted.


The theme I chose for this blog (Runo Lite) doesn’t display links very well, something I realized when I took blogging 101. Since then, I have been coloring the link text to increase visibility, but it also can be distracting.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Is there One Truth or Are There Many? – Writing 101

Carol A. Hand

“Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.” Andre Gide (1869 – 1951)

I remember that I began to question if there really was such a thing as the “one truth” at an early age. As a young child born of two cultures, I went to protestant Sunday school, the faith of my Anglo-American father, and catholic catechism, the religion forced on my Ojibwe mother in an Indian boarding school.


Image: Feather Symbol of Truth 

I was curious and inquisitive, and a bit of a rebel even then. Each teacher had repeatedly assured us that only their religion was based on the one and only truth. When they asked us to repeat the “facts” we were supposed to memorize from the lessons of the previous week, I decided to test the “truth.” In Sunday school, I would repeat what I had memorized for catechism class. And in catechism class, I would eagerly raise my hand to share what I had learned in Sunday school. Needless to say, neither one was pleased with my answers – perhaps they merely thought I was a little slow.

“Truth persuades by teaching, but does not teach by persuading.” Quintus Septimius Tertullianus (160 AD – 230 AD), Adversus Valentinianos

By the age of eight, I realized that I needed to learn more before I decided what truth was for myself. I’m still exploring this question more than sixty years later.

What is truth? According to Webster’s dictionary (1989), truth is “conformity with fact or reality…; a verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principle, or the like” (p. 1521). This definition only leads me to ask more questions. What are “facts” and “reality?” These are foundational questions I needed to deal with as a researcher. Interestingly, the answers differ depending on who you ask.

Research paradigms in academia have become a different type of religion. Adherents of quantitative and qualitative research methodologies believe their approach is the only legitimate way to discover what is true.

“On the ontological issue of what is real, the quantitative researcher views reality as “objective,” “out there” independent of the researcher. Something can be measured objectively by using a questionnaire or an instrument. For the qualitative researcher, the only reality is that constructed by the individuals involved in the research situation. Thus multiple realities exist in any given situation: the researcher, those individuals being investigated, and the reader or audience interpreting a study. The qualitative researcher needs to report faithfully these realities and to rely on voices and interpretation of informants.” (Creswell, 1994, pp. 4, 6, emphasis in original)

Is truth knowable? One of the examples that struck me in graduate school was a metaphor that Hyemeyohsts Storm (1972) used to describe the importance of one’s position when trying to discover reality. Imagine we are all seated in a large circle. If we place a multifaceted object in the center, say an elephant (drawing on another example), each of us would only be able to see what was in our frame of sight. What we see is tangible and “real,” but it’s only a small part of the whole. Now, take a concept like mental health and place it in the circle. Each of us would interpret what it is differently based on our culture, experiences and education. The version of reality that is accepted as true is almost always that which is held by those in positions of power in any given society and era.

“Say not, ‘I have found the truth,’ but rather, ‘I have found a truth.'” Kahlil Gibran (1883 – 1931)

Why is it so difficult to accept that many truths are possible? So many lives have been lost or destroyed throughout history because people needed others to accept their deeply held notions of truth. I end with the quote by Rumi that inspired this reflection. I believe the world would be a different place today if people had heeded his wise counsel.

“The truth was a mirror in the hands of God. It fell, and broke into pieces. Everybody took a piece of it, and they looked at it and thought they had the truth.” (Rumi)

In Storm’s example of the circle and Rumi’s metaphor of the broken mirror, all perspectives and fragments are necessary if we are to understand reality, the first step in discovering truth. It’s also the first step in building peace.

Works Cited:

John W. Creswell (1994). Research design: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Hyemeyohsts Storm (1972). Seven arrows. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

Webster’s encyclopedic unabridged dictionary of the English language (1989). New York, NY: Gramercy Books.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Space to Write – Writing 101

Carol A. Hand

My writing chair is magic
It’s a sacred space
Where it’s safe to travel
Through time and from place to place
It helps me open up memories
From the hazy distant past
And takes me to an imagined future
Recording dreams so they will last


Photo: My Writing Space

The rainbow colored cape
Draped across the chair
Was crocheted by my mother
Sometimes I feel her essence there
Weaving bright threads together
With gnarled arthritic hands
With her healing loving presence
My stories flow in urgent strands

It’s not a fancy chair
In a pristine quiet place
But it’s in a peaceful home
Filled with music, light and grace
May the stories that are written here
Touch hearts with both joy and sorrow
May the stories help us realize that together
We can weave a more peaceful world now and for tomorrow.

Thoughts about Polls:

I really don’t see myself as a writer – I’m merely someone who writes because I must. As I greet the morning, I often feel an urgency to record the thoughts that flow despite pressing tasks that need attention.

As I was reading other blogs this morning, I came across a quote on K. A. Libby’s Blog that describes this compulsion:

“5. I write because I must. I am driven by my obsession to write.” (K. A. Libby)

I’m not sure that a poll to collect writing ideas will help. It could be too overwhelming. But there is another option that is already part of my blog. I do welcome submissions that fit with the blog’s purpose, described on my submissions and about pages. My blog is, after all, called Voices from the Margins. I’m grateful to those who have already shared their stories here as honored guests.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Reflections on Writing

Carol A. Hand

Deciding to take Writing 101 was an important decision. Unlike many of the friends I’ve made while blogging, and many of the others who are enrolled in the class, I honestly never thought of myself as a writer. It’s not something I ever aspired to become. I have always been a voracious reader, but I only wrote because it was required in school and in some of my jobs. True, I usually received good grades on the papers I wrote in school, sometimes with glowing praise, but I was more interested in learning concrete skills. Writing was merely one of the tools I needed to be effective as a change agent.

But then I retired from teaching, program development, and policy advocacy. I realized that the programs I had created or the reflections I wrote privately to survive my years in academia might be helpful to others. A few years ago, when an old friend suggested that we start a blog together, I had time on my hands to try. Of course, I didn’t even know what a blog was then. I had heard the term in the technology workshops I took when I was responding to real issues for commuting students. How could I use technology to cut down their travel time and make learning more accessible? But learning the technology and designing online assignments took up my time. I didn’t have time to visit blogs, partly because mention of their content suggested that they, like Wikipedia, were academically suspect.


Photo: Crossroads – Wikimedia Commons 

This morning, I felt I needed to take time to sort out my thoughts about writing in different voices. Writing 101 has made me wonder if my observations thus far are accurate for me, and maybe for others as well. The contrasts I see between writing from an academic voice and writing from a creative voice appear to be significant.

When I write an academic paper, grant, or report, I need to begin with a title that helps me keep focused on purpose and structure before I begin. It’s like pushing the “computer sort” button.” Titles like “Rescuing children or homogenizing America?”, or “Tools of the trade for men who care”, remind me to keep focused on what I’m trying to say.

But responding to the word prompt assignment for Writing 101 was actually very hard. I was trying to write something creative so I struggled. I muddled through because I was determined to move forward despite writer’s block. But it was hard and what I wrote felt disorganized. My language didn’t flow easily. When I wrote to an image, something I often do when I blog, the words were unlocked. Poetic titles to structure academic works? Images to inspire works that allow more creative expression? I’m still not sure. But it seems to be a pattern.

I’m still experimenting with the dilemma of which voice to use for stories. I remember how hard I struggled with voice when I shifted from quantitative to qualitative research. Creswell’s (1994) tables helped me sort out what my assumptions and beliefs were about key questions and when to use third person (objective) or first person (personal) language.

creswell 1

creswell 2

creswell 3

Photos: Power Point Slides from Lecture on Research

I’m not sure if these tables will help anyone else but I decided to include them just in case they might. Revisiting them though, doesn’t help me with the decision of which voice will work best in a novel. My blogging friends who are expert writers differ on this question. It means I need to keep experimenting to see what works best for me as I continue the exciting challenges Writing 101 presents.

Work Cited:

John W. Creswell (1994). Research design: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Coming Home – The Beginning – Writing 101

Carol A. Hand

August 28, 2001. Mavis was nervous. It was her first day visiting the Ojibwe community where she would spend the next nine months. What made it especially challenging was her role there. She wasn’t really sure what it meant to conduct an ethnographic study. Her parents had already had a difficult time figuring out what she did for jobs, but a researcher? People avoided her when they found out what she did for a living, particularly those she knew in the Ojibwe community. “You think you’re too good for us,” they’d say. They never took the time to find out who she really was and they didn’t want her around.

The funny thing about Mavis was that people often thought she was a pushover because they saw her as small, frail, and reserved. But things are relative in more than one way. During the time she spent on the rez as a child, she learned to see herself as tall. She was tall compared to many of her cousins – a gangling Ichabod Crane. And the people she volunteered with in the Kentucky hills, cutting down trees with an ax to build a summer camp, learned to accept her as one of the crew. “She’s small, but damn that teenie bopper can work,” they’d say.

If you watch her carefully, you’ll notice she walks with a confident stride and holds herself tall – all 5’ 3”. She wears her straight dark hair pulled back in a ponytail, thick eyeglasses, no makeup, no frilly clothes. The only concession she makes when she needs to look professional is to put on a tailored jacket over her tee shirt and good jeans.

In a sense, doing this study was a chance for Mavis to go home. Not the one she grew up in and not the rez where she spent her summers as a child. She wasn’t going there expecting anything from others. She was there because she knew that Native American children were still being taken away from their families and communities. Even though federal legislation was supposed to stop the practice that began when the Spaniards first arrived in what is now Florida in the 1500s, the removal of Native American children from their families and communities continued unabated for the next five centuries. It was still going on. Mavis wanted to know why and if it was possible to stop it.

The day was warm sunny by the time Mavis pulled up outside of the old tribal building that served as the center for tribal social services. She found Linda in her office.

Peeking through the open door, Mavis saw Linda typing at her computer, back to the door. “Hey Linda,” she said. “It’s so nice to finally meet your in person.” Linda turned and got up from her chair to shake Mavis’ hand. “I don’t know how to tell you how grateful I am for agreeing to help me learn more about the community.”

“Here, have a seat” Linda said, pointing to a chair by the small round table in her office. “Tell me how I can help you. I’d like to take you to the elders’ center for lunch today. That’s the best way to meet people in the community who might be willing to talk to you. But first, tell me what you want to know.”

Mavis sorted through the pile of papers she brought and handed a pile to Linda, explaining each one. “These are the things I’m required by the university to share with the community. They explain the purpose of the research and the questions I plan to ask. And these are consent forms that people need to sign if they’re willing to let me share what they say. It also promises that their names and identities will never appear in anything I write or say in public or in private.”

Linda quickly skimmed the forms and began laughing. “You can’t share these with elders. They’ll never understand what you want to know. Here, we have half an hour before lunch. Let’s come up with some questions they’ll understand.”

Linda rolled her chair back to the computer and began typing. Mavis dragged her chair closer so she could peak over Linda’s shoulder. With a rapid-fire exchange, Mavis and Linda worked together to write new questions. Linda enlarged the print so elders would be able to read them more easily, quickly made copies, and she and Mavis sped out the door. They hopped into Linda’s old silver 1990 Cadillac, a boat of a car from Mavis’ perspective.

It was that first day when Mavis met many of the elders and community members who would become the most prolific storytellers. Thomas, Raymond, and Lucille, all elders, were there that first day. Each shared stories that would make a lasting impression on Mavis. She would leave the community when her research was done in August of 2002, but the weight of responsibility their stories conveyed would stay with her for the rest of her lifetime.

When lunch was finished, Linda and Mavis left the elder’s center. Instead of driving back to her office, Linda told Mavis she wanted to take her somewhere that would help her understand the community. They drove down winding wooded roads and finally pulled over near an opening in the woods, a grass-covered field. “Come on,” said Linda,” I want to show you something.”

She led Mavis down a well-worn path toward a small lake. “This is a special lake that we see as the center of our community. To us, it symbolizes the home where we have lived as a people for centuries. It’s our home on this earth and in the universe. I come here when I want to pray. It also symbolizes the home where we hope our children can always come in the future to feel the spirits of their ancestors. A place where they can come to remember who they are so they can teach their children and their children’s children where we come from and where we belong.”


Photo: by Drew Geraets

It was an auspicious beginning of a friendship that would last many years, although Mavis and Linda would never meet face to face again after Mavis left the community.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Coming Home? – Writing 101

Carol A. Hand

Let me begin by being honest. This assignment proved to be far more difficult than anticipated. I wanted to use the word prompt to draft the beginning of a novel, but I found myself up against decades-long university programming. I just couldn’t break away from the need to write like a distant observer. The only character I could put myself into was my own.

I’m including my first draft, and my after thoughts. I really would appreciate honest, constructive feedback.


Draft “Coming Home?”

Let’s go for a ride. It’s a nice day and I want to show you the house the tribe is building for me,” said Grandfather Thomas.

(I think of him as grandfather. It’s a title of respect for someone who is older than I am. He’s in his late 70s. And in a sense we’re related. We’re both Ojibwe although from different communities. He’s tall, thin, and stately, with silvered hair that’s often covered by a baseball cap. His hearty laughter and ready wit make him seem much younger than his chronological age. But his stooped shoulders and stiff movements make me wonder if he’s in pain although I’ve never heard him complain.)

Grandfather Thomas has always made me feel welcome in this Ojibwe community that is not my own. I wonder if he really understands what it meant when I told him that I was here to conduct a research study. Will it ever be possible for me to remain distant from people like him whom I am learning to care about during my short time here? He eagerly shares his stories and his artwork with me, and all I should really do as a researcher is listen and ask questions. My job is to record his words and write up my observations every evening after our visits when I return to my little efficiency apartment in the neighboring town.

Sure,” I said. “Do you want me to drive? My car’s right over here.”

Yes, I was being polite, but I was also a little hesitant to ride with an elder who is sometimes easily distracted.

We set off, traveling past tribal buildings, past the HUD homes. As we drive, Grandfather Thomas is telling me the history of the people who live in each home. Finally, we come to a fork in the road. The road to the right is paved.

Go left here,” he said.

We travel on the bumpy rutted one-lane dirt road past pine trees, and past birch and aspen trees that are beginning to take on a golden autumn glow.

We’re coming up to the house now. Pull into the driveway.”

His new house is set back from the road, nestled in the woods. I can see a small stream in the backyard. Inside, the house is light and airy. Construction materials are scattered about – and the floors are still uncovered plywood – but it’s easy to see that his new house will be much nicer than the cramped, over-heated apartment he lives in now in the tribal elders’ center.

It is a nice, ordinary ranch house, appropriate for someone in his late 70s. He won’t have to climb too many stairs. But, there aren’t any houses close by and the road will be hard to travel in the winter.

He’s eager and impatient to move, voicing his frustration with the tribal council because it’s taking so long. He wants to move before winter.

As we drive back to town, Grandfather Thomas is quiet. It gives me time to think. Even though the dirt road bears his family name, and even though his ancestors have lived on this reservation land for centuries, I wonder if it really feels like home to him. He’s lived away from this community for almost his entire life. It wasn’t his choice or his family’s decision. When he was just five years old, he was kidnapped as he walked along the village road. The strangers who enticed him into a car in the early 1920s were not the strangers we often imagine taking children. They were missionaries, sanctioned by the federal government to round up Native American children for placement in crowded unhealthy institutions far from their families and communities. There, they would be forced to speak the language and adopt the customs and religions of those who conquered their Indigenous nations long ago. There, they would be taught the skills that would make them productive manual laborers and servants.

Grandfather Thomas was among the lucky. He survived . And he was able to return to the reservation after his wife died ten years ago. I wonder if he felt at home here, though, because he spent so much time away. The community was different than the one he knew as a little boy.

I wonder if he ever felt at home anywhere after he was kidnapped…

It’s a question I can’t ask him. I can only listen to what he chooses to share. Although he never mentions this, the stories he does choose to share continue to affect me profoundly through the years that follow…


After Thoughts

I wonder if the words I wrote convey how deeply I loved the people I was privileged to meet. (It’s not something I’m supposed to admit as a researcher.) They gave me the most precious gifts, their trust, friendship, and their stories. I hope that I can honor those gifts by sharing what I learned to raise awareness about the past and present issues people on the margins face.

What I’ve sketched out here isn’t poorly written, but it seems to lacks substance. As I reflect on this beginning, I keep hearing my university graduate advisor asking me “What do you mean by this term?” In this case, the term is “home.” How can I portray what home is and means with tactile details that give it substance? How do I describe it in ways that touch the deep human longing we all feel for a sense of connection and belonging? This beginning doesn’t do that for me.

It may meet Hemingway’s advice to begin with one true statement. I think that’s about all it has. It’s missing heart. I want people to feel what it’s like for a child who is kidnapped to lose his home. To feel what it does to the meaning of home for families that lose children to horrifically abusive institutions generation after generation as they watch helplessly. To feel what it does to communities when they are unable to fulfill their most sacred duty – protecting and nurturing children to assure cultural survival – because the children that are supposed to protect have been violently ripped from their care generation after generation.

I want to write something that reaches people so they understand the history of the colonialism and its legacy today. I want them to care. I don’t want to blame anyone for the past. It’s done. Blaming those who carried out these policies in the past does nothing to heal trauma for descendants of the victims or the perpetrators. And it does nothing to end the collective abuse of children today both here and abroad.

As someone who grew up between cultures, I became a boundary-spanner and an ethnographer to survive. Writing a good ethnography is like telling a story. It requires the art of translation, the ability to bring others inside of experiences or a world or a culture that are unfamiliar. I don’t think this first draft does that…


I would like to be able to answer the voice of my advisor that still echoes in my thoughts. What does the word “home” mean? It’s more than a place. It’s more than being surrounded by a group of people who accept us for who we really are, with all of our faults and gifts. Can I remember times in my life when I felt “home”? Maybe the years I lived without electricity surrounded by forest on the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe reservation, but it’s something I still need to think about.

ldf winter

Photo: Winter on Amik Lake – sometime in the early 1990s

This exercise has been so valuable. It’s made me think even though I don’t have any answers today. I do look forward to  hearing your thoughts.

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A List of the Things I Do with Lists – Writing 101

Carol A. Hand

I’m always taking notes and making lists,
But when I really need them,
They’re never to be found.
I know I’ve put them somewhere,
They’ve got to be around.
I know I saw it in this pile,
Or did I put it in this file?


Hmm, I think I remember typing it out
But what did I name it, what was it about?
Lists, lists, they’re everywhere
On envelopes and post it-notes
On counter tops and tables.
I’ve got to find a better system
To create new files and labels.
They’re in notebooks and on legal pads
And on the flipchart, too.

flip chart

If I’m going to write a book
This chaos will never do.
Let me try this program
I think it would be wise.
It’s time to get ready
I really need to organize.
Lists are a road map
To help plot the way
I need to know my purpose
And what I want to say.
In the past lists have helped
I’ll begin new lists today!

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

I Write Because? – Writing 101

Carol A. Hand

Yesterday, before I read the prompt for today’s Writing 101 assignment, I addressed this question. I wanted to reflect before the class began.

“As I look at the larger patterns in my life, I realize that it’s important for me to share knowledge from the heart as well as from the intellect in words that are clear and simple. Lately, I’ve given some thought to the question “why do I write?” I write to share the simple things I’ve learned in hopes that it will help others. I follow my mother’s footsteps, not as a healer of bodies (I grow faint at the sight of blood), but as someone who sees the beauty in others even in times of adversity. I hope to be a mirror that reflects back the beauty I see in others so they can see it in themselves.” (Carol A. Hand)

As soon as I hit publish, I realized this was only part of the truth. What are the other reasons I write? When I asked myself that question this morning, an image and a memory of Mickey flashed through my thoughts. I was one of the strangers responsible for his care, a fifty year old man lying in a nursing home bed, forgotten, unable to care for himself, dependent on the kindness of strangers who weren’t always kind.

I only know bits and pieces of Mickey’s story and the accident that brought him to the nursing home many years before I took this job. He broke his neck when he fell down the steps one night while he was doing his job as a janitor. The accident left him paralyzed, paraplegic, unable to do the simplest self-care tasks. He needed to rely on overworked, underpaid nurses and nurses’ aides to do everything for him. Many didn’t have the time, patience, or inclination to realize there was a sensitive, alert human being inside his motionless body.

I had the luxury of listening to him because I worked the graveyard shift. (A fitting title for the night shift in this facility, although it’s hardly respectful of the people whose care and safety depended on our presence and compassion.) It was difficult for Mickey to speak as he struggled to make his jaw and tongue move. His softly spoken words were almost impossible to decipher at first. It took me time to learn the meanings behind this new language. One memorable story often comes to mind. Mickey told me in his halting, painful-to-witness way, that the nurses’ aides seldom talked to him or asked him if he needed anything. There were a few who were kind and treated him like a human being. But one in particular, according to Mickey, was incredibly rude. When it was time to get residents ready for bed, she would come in with a washcloth and rub it over his face without removing his eyeglasses first. In fact, she just left his smeared eyeglasses on, shutting off the light as she left him alone in his the room for the night. He lay there unable to do anything about it until I arrived for my shift.

I write because people like Mickey can’t. Someone needs to write their stories. I write because women with small children and bills to pay have to work at low paying jobs at times of the day or night that allow them to attend to their children’s needs during waking hours. They didn’t and don’t have access to affordable, reliable, high quality daycare and may be locked into pick collar, low-wage jobs for many years. They need to work at whatever jobs they can find in a society that does little to ensure that families have adequate safety net benefits. The long-term care industry (or childcare industry) is staffed by a steady stream of low-income women – mothers with young children or elders who can’t afford to retire. It’s an industry that is built on the backs of poor women often with few other options. (I mean that quite literally – lifting people like Mickey is heavy, back-straining work.) Their stories need to be included in national conversations about the need to pay workers living wages.

AW nursing home

Photo: Nursing Home Resident – Aging Wisconsin (full citation listed below)

Warehousing those who need assistance in institutions like the one Mickey lived in, or worse, is what we’ve been conditioned to see as the best or only option for people who need 24-hour care and assistance. Yet studies show nursing homes are not always the best option. It’s important to realize that one accident could place any one of us in a situation like Mickey’s – or worse. Is that what we want for ourselves, our parents, our children?

I write because these are important issues to consider. The legislators and experts who decide what types of services to provide as a nation rarely if ever ask those who are most affected by their decisions what they (elders, parents, workers) need and prefer. These are the people on the margins, like me, who need to have a voice in designing a nation and a world that care more about people.

“The moral test of a government is how it treats those who are at the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the aged; and those who are in the shadow of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.” (Hubert H. Humphrey, 1976)

While I doubt that my modest stories will have much of an impact, it’s what I can do today to try. It’s what I can do to honor Mickey’s memory and the many women (and men) who help people in the situations Humphrey describes with such poetic eloquence. Words can bring hope and healing to a troubled world. Writing with this purpose in mind is something I love to do. Ultimately, it’s why I write.

Work Cited:

Carol Hand (1988)(Ed.) Aging Wisconsin: The past three years – 1984-1986 progress report on the Wisconsin State Plan on Aging. Madison, WI: Bureau on Aging, Department of Health and Social Services.

Contextual Note:

This essay was inspired by the new course I began today, Writing 101. My intention for taking the course is described below.

“I’m looking forward to meeting all of you and learning more about your blogs. I’m also looking forward to the discipline and challenge of writing every day. It’s my hope to use this class to help me work on a new approach for a book that I originally thought would be non-fiction based on a research study I did a number of years ago. Instead, after experiencing the freedom of writing a play that required creativity and freed me from the constraints of objective reporting, I decided to explore fiction as an option. Fictionalized accounts would also be a better way to protect individual and place identities. So, I see this course as a challenging and exciting opportunity to experiment with new ways of writing.
I send my best wishes to all!”

Despite my desire to learn to write fiction, the prompt for today inspired a different direction. But then, it’s Labor Day. And unbidden and unplanned, the memory that came to mind allowed me to honor the many women I’ve worked with who do the heavy-lifting in the profitable long-term care industry, although they see little of the industry’s financial rewards.

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